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Build a Campfire for Survival Cooking

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You never know when a situation may arise when you are forced to be without electricity for days on end. No stove. No convenience of the microwave. You may possibly even be unable to access propane or charcoal for your grill. Learning the skill of campfire cooking is a not only a key to survival, it is a fun experience for outdoor excursions or simply on hot days when you don’t want to heat up the house.


Remember that building a fire outdoors can be dangerous if it gets out of control. You need to keep the proper respect for fire and the damage that it can cause. The base of your fire should always be on bare ground, preferably on a large, flat rock, if possible. Set up a firebreak for your campfire, perhaps by pulling up vegetation in a circle around the fire base.

Never make a fire in any strong winds. Even medium-strength winds can be hazardous and campfires are not recommended. Sparks are capable of escaping the firebreak by traveling on the wind and catching nearby structures or plants on fire. Wind also tends to reduce the coals faster, making cooking difficult.

Be sure to choose the proper wood for your campfire. Live, green wood will not burn easily, and if you do manage to get it burning, it produces quite a bit of smoke. Choose old wood that is dry. Chop wood now before an emergency arises, so that you are not frantically seeking fallen branches in times of need.

Always keep at least one bucket of water nearby, if not several or even a hose. Never build a fire when your water supply is low, as you will be unable to put it out if it gets out of control.

Building the Campfire

A campfire must be structured so that cooking time is predictable and the fire releases an even flame. Also, the following tips help you create an ideal cooking campfire

The Base

Using large rocks, create a U-shaped form with the bottom of the U facing away from the breeze. Put a large flat rock at the bottom of the U to create a path for the smoke to be carried away from the food. Next, fill the cooking area with crumpled paper, if you have it. If not, use small, dry sticks, which will easily catch fire. Create a checkerboard pattern with the kindling, covering the whole fire area. Light the paper to get the fire started.

Building the Fire

Once the fire has caught, add firewood. Choose dry wood of similar size, preferably hardwood. Lay them evenly over the fire, not in a teepee-style. Once the flames die down and only white coals remain, arrange the coals so that there are more in the back and slowly thinning until there are none at the open-end of the U-shape. This creates different levels of heat, similar to a stove’s high, medium, and low settings.


Use a metal grate, either from your oven or your grill, laying it across the rocks in the base. You can cook directly on the grate, or you can use pots and pans. Remember that the heat is not in a little circle, as on your stove, so do not use pans with plastic handles or keep plastic utensils in the pot. Never leave cooking food unattended.

Clean up

After cooking, you can build the fire back up from the coals for warmth or light after dark. When it’s time for bed, thoroughly soak the fire with water, stirring the coals and wetting any bright coals. Push the rocks into the pit to further staunch any sparks. You can easily re-create your pit the following day, if needed.

As Jason Hartman has taught us, being prepared for your future is the best path to success, even in the face of the unexpected. (Top image: Flickr | lowjumpingfrog)

The Holistic Survival Team


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